Neil Patel

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Davis Siksnans built his own unicorn startup before becoming an investor to help other entrepreneurs maximize the potential of their own ventures. His initial startup, Printful, attracted funding from top-tier investors like Bregal Sagemount.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • What Davis Siksnans is investing in now
  • Testing your business idea
  • How to optimize your customer acquisition costs


For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) that I recently covered. Thiel was the first angel investor in Facebook with a $500K check that turned into more than $1 billion in cash.

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The Ultimate Guide To Pitch Decks

Moreover, I also provided a commentary on a pitch deck from an Uber competitor that has raised over $400 million (see it here).

Remember to unlock for free the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.

About Davis Siksnans:

Davis currently is a Senior Advisor and Investor at Draugiem Capital, Board Member at Mapon, a car fleet management company, and an investor/board member at Prime Prometics, a beauty brand for women over 50.

Previously Davis was a co-founder and ex-CEO of Printful, a print-on-demand and warehousing company for online stores and the first Latvian unicorn company.

Printful prints t-shirts and 400+ other products for online e-commerce stores and drop ships them to end customers.

With over $83.7 million invested in equipment, we use industry-leading tech to fulfill more than 1 million items every month. Since our founding in 2013, Printful has scaled to a team of 1,700+ people and did $289 million in revenue in 2021.

Printful has 10 fulfillment centers in the USA, Canada, Europe, and Mexico, and 7 partner facilities in Japan, Australia, and Brazil.

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Connect with Davis Siksnans:

Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:

Alejandro Cremades: Hello everyone and welcome to the deal maker show. So today. We have a very exciting founder. We’re gonna be talking about all the good stuff we’re gonna be talking about building scaling and financing but also financing via the private equity route. So I guess without farther do let’s welcome our guest today. Davis welcome to the show. So originally born there in Latvia so give us a little of a walk through memory lane. How was life growing up.

Davis Siksnans: Welcome Thanks for having me.

Davis Siksnans: While I was born in 9091 I was right after the fall of Soviet Union and Latvia regaining independence really had a normal and happy childhood and I just happy to be living a time when internet came into its. You know being and allowing me and others to actually make businesses on top of that you know internet growth from an early age I was actually interested in technology and and I was you know playing around as computers. as first as first computer I got. And learning software development on my own and in my bedroom I remember like there was even a time and I didn’t have internet at home. But I was going to a local library that internet I was just downloading materials and bring it to home to you know code and think around the computer all through late at night

Alejandro Cremades: I mean at 13 I mean that’s quite early so while what was that how did you encounter you know the world of computers. What what got you into it I mean how how did that happen.

Davis Siksnans: I just kind of gravitated towards it and you know I like you know like you know, just using internet to local library. Just ah, you know, being from relatively small town in a relatively small country. It was just awesome to see that through Google. Or Wikipedia or internet you get access to yeah, world’s knowledge I just naturally gravitating towards that.

Alejandro Cremades: And be ah 1 of your cousins. You know that’s how you got you know, really into you know, really the world of a of technology. So why? So what happened there.

Davis Siksnans: Yeah, my cousin was living in a different town so we were actually connected over Skype and irc chat at the time and he was a bit more technical than mine like when I was learning software development he he you know helped me do that and he just was a way better software developer than ias and he had. Ah, classmate that was a designer. So for me just maybe 14 to 17 you were just working on different projects together websites you know for businesses building a game etc and it just happened that he joined you know one of. At the time and still to this day monowork exercised exciting workplaces in Latviiaa which is drogam me a group and he joined at the age of 17 as the first ios developer the same year an iphone came out and I joined a year later yeah he’s a recommendation as an I administrator because the company was growing and needed just. Someone who would you know help people and coworkers use computers as they were hiding non-technical talent at the the same time. So I got the job at really early age of 18 and lucky to still be at that group today.

Alejandro Cremades: And you obviously experienced the American culture too because a you you you did your studies in information systems. So what was that experience like.

Davis Siksnans: Yeah I was always wanted to study the United States and I didn’t get chance to doing that on a high school level and luckily through applying to scholarships I got to experience that in Wisconsin University Of O Claire on a university level. And at the time in Latvia you couldn’t learn something that combined it and business. But the United States you can so I really like that the factor that it was not either software development or business but you could do something that’s more liberal arts. Where you can combine the 2 things and I actually filled my time in the United States university mostly on ah not just id courses but courses focused on marketing how to sell to american audience which really came in handy when I started working on new businesses including printful or the primary. Target market was the United States

Alejandro Cremades: So Let’s talk about that. What was saying because when you when you finish your studies you got into trying different ideas. You had like a bunch of them and then you realize that the printful you know was say ultimately the one that made the most the amount of sense. So. Why was that process like why testing all different ideas. How do you go about? hey you know let’s let’s go into testing all these ideas and what was that moment where you all were like printful serves all of our focus.

Davis Siksnans: Well, just you need to try a lot of times to find the ones that worked I mean over the course of which in groups history is now 19 years We have tried over a hundred different but business ideas and. And we came from a position where we always used their own capital because in early two thousand s there were no venture capitalists or and there were no banks that would lent to technology or internet businesses and we tried to work on different ideas that we could start with them. You know so relatively small amount of capital like a you know hundred thousand k per se and we were lucky that we had a social network. You know that’s our first business that really worked. We actually took the idea of friendsster adapted to Laa and that was our first idea that worked but um and. You know we just tried a bunch of different ideas and the connecting factor was only factor that there was a software developer. There was designer and there was a business focused project manager slash ceo who worked on it and we just brought it to the market and every time you brought it the market you try to use. You know the similar techniques and you know recycle them and recycle audience as well and just focus on the business where you know it went up to the to the right and the the businesses that didn’t work as well and we lost interest we closed down sold out. Ah sold.

Davis Siksnans: Or gave to someone else to manage so I was actually at 1 time running 5 business ideas at the same time. Um.

Alejandro Cremades: So so 1 thing there that that you mentioned that I thought it was very interesting is that you know you’ve been part of testing you know tons and tons of ideas and I guess before we really do the deeper dive and double click on printful I want to ask you because I’m sure that there’s a lot of people that are listening. How do you come to the point or to the conclusion and or to the conclusion that an idea has legs and that it’s worth pursuing as a business.

Davis Siksnans: Well to be honest, we didn’t do you know that much research we felt like we can put in the and mep together with our internal resource relatively. Fast and so we didn’t focus. In research, we focused on developing and Mvp and trying to bring it to market as soon as possible and basically base our feedback whether it has legs or not on customer feedback. So um, you know when even in the launch printful. We actually just. Email the link to a landing page that had a signup page but behind a signup page. There was no actual product. The 1 of audience for existing business which was start a winemins which is a ecommerce store for posters. And once we saw that a lot of people just clicked on an email and converted and sign up and we’re really interested in a product that just okay, this makes sense now we will invest about you know, 3 to six months and actually building the product behind it.

Alejandro Cremades: So then let’s talk about printful. So um, especially for the people that are listening what ended up being the business model of printful.

Davis Siksnans: We came up with sprintful because we operated online store starter vitamins and we you know we were selling posters on demand so we bought a poster printer and we bought paper and all all that was done on demand and actually posters are a great product to do where. You have no minimums. You don’t hold any inventory and you do it on demand each poster can be different but we looked at amount of products sold on internet and the biggest category there is a paddle and closing in general and we wanted to do the same you know approach being no minimum on-de demand for starter vitamins. And we couldn’t find a service that would you know integrate with our backend at the time which was shopify and would we know pull our orders from shopify automatically would fulfill t-shirts on demand and then provide our backend shopify with a tracking link and dropship these items to then customer so we. We thought if we as starter vitamins have this need and there’s just on a shopify platform at the time there was 100000 stores. There must be you know thousands of stores out there who has the same same need for a good on-demand rapturing service for t-shirts and other print products. And that was specifically you know, integrate with new ecommerce platforms that were coming ah to the market at that time. So that’s how we came up, you know, withprintful again. The first marketing channel was our existing customer base of starter vitamins and the next it was integrating with platforms like shopify.

Davis Siksnans: Woocommerce and later marketplaces like edspeed to actually drive the initial customer base.

Alejandro Cremades: So the the company actually quickly became profitable and you know you guys bootstrap the operation and you didn’t raise any money during the early days like you know the typical company would do. How were you guys able to do that.

Davis Siksnans: Well I you know I think at peak star weman’s did what about $1000000 in top line revenue and did it profitably you know, actually there’s good profit margins in wallardt categoryes specifically so we used the star vitamin’s profit for instance to buy some of the first t-shirt printers. And the first months we launched printful it was day I think it did $800 then $1600 and within six months that business was just larger than starter vitamins and because a business is a vertically integrated manufacturing business where you operate both the software part where it integrates with platforms. Ah, marketplace and ecommerce platforms and also the production part which is t-shirt printers poster printers the physical part we were able to actually get loans from banking and non-banking lenders at competitive rates as we all know you know. Previous years. We enjoyed the period of relatively low interest rates while some lenders are hesitant to lend technology only companies printful was sort of a you know. Ah, company. That’s both a manufacturer and both a technology company in 1 so we were actually were able to finance with good good loans and you know we run a business profitably. We set the competitive but profitable price for our products.

Davis Siksnans: And we’re just able to finance Lotta from our own cash flow.

Alejandro Cremades: And you guys were in latvia so did you did you feel at any point that you were at a disadvantage because you were there and perhaps not in the United States

Davis Siksnans: Well 1 founder was the United States another founder was in lata meaning I was in lata while the other founder large was in Los Angeles so actual physical production from day one happened in Los Angeles but Latvia was actually. And advantage not a disadvantage because we were able to quickly build out the marketing and software development teams here while in most for instance, just being purely on Los Angeles the United States we would probably struggle to hire the top talent while Latvia we were sort of recognized as the Google of. You know Latvia there was no actual Google office on the ground there was more limited opportunities to work remotely for top firms like it is today. So we’re actually able to get top talent at really competitive rates if we’re just purely us. Based we wouldn’t be able to that. So actually that was our advantage and most ah print on demand companies are actually from europe instead of the United States because they use this international talent.

Alejandro Cremades: And in this case, how did you guys go about dividing and conquering on the talent between the office in the us and then also the office in in Latvia and then also how did you go about making sure that the culture you know to certain degree was unified and they were not. That much friction between you know, 1 part of the team and the other part of the team.

Davis Siksnans: Well, you know I so said we would struggle to hardop engineering talent the United States so we really didn’t go for it and United States was very focused on operations. We as we grew and scaled the company. We hired talent from. Companies who had operational experience in our field of printing so there was folks from Amazon other companies that knew how to do printing but most other work was actually done in Europe because we just find it easier to hire in order to have good culture between. Ah, between a United States and between Europe we what we end up doing was what had very frequent business trips. We invited colleagues from the United States to Latvia and a lot of latvians went over to the United States we brought some software developers more in early days over to help. Integrate all the printing systems and make sure they work perfectly inside printful facilities. So mostly business trips and actually and the challenge was when covid hit them. He couldn’t do that.

Alejandro Cremades: And how was how was going through Covid for you guys.

Davis Siksnans: Well luckily we had built a pretty good team up until that point we actually you know made out weases for several intra-company transfer employees that transferred over from ah from latvia to work in the United States so if I hadn’t built a good team. It would have been much harder. But covid initially was a shock because most companies we didn’t know what to do and we were you know temporarily decreasing our actually spend and cost and costs in anticipation. Not sure what’s going to happen. But I think within a three weeks of initial logdowns happening and just really shot up and we. We’re basically in hyperg gross mode again where we you know we’rerascing that in a business likerunful. You kind of just plug in extra servers from Amazon rev services. We ended up having to build extra new facilities in a time when. Moving and flying around between countries is limited so we actually had employees who would stay in isolation for two weeks in a hotel room before they can be go out for instance in Canada and build out that new facility and that is also when the first time we were thinking about in order to. Ah, absorb this all new gross and opportunity. We actually now need to go out and raise external capital while up until that point we were really comfortable being a bootstrap.

Alejandro Cremades: So at the point I mean obviously you know so many years being a bootstrapped operation. You know I’m sure that you guys were a little bit concerned about hey you know like now bringing external people. You know how? how is that going to be so what was that process like of um. What was that thought process and then also how did you go about raising the money too because it was you know more going after the private equity side of things versus perhaps the Vc side you know so why private equity and then also what was that thought process on that experience.

Davis Siksnans: Luckily we were starting to think about that several years prior to actually around happening. We. We got acquainted with roschild investment bank and specifically their team in New York to talk about potential ipo advisory just exploring options. How would you know. Go about us eventually being a public company so we spent ah you know quite a bit of time in New York with the roschel investment bank team and them looking at our business and suggesting suggesting certain things that need to be you know, improved or updated within a company. For us to eventually raise a successful round or eventually go public. So when covid happened we actually used them as advisors in this round and the reason between choosing the private equity round the Vc round was you know primarily based on the business models of vcs versus. Versus private equity funds over the years prior to that we had so several offers to invest but we see business model is that they always strive for that. You know one you know more than 10 x return sometimes a hundred x return on their investment and for us to get. The validation. The shareholders would be happy about. We said like the private equity firms are more reasonable. They are going to be more reasonable like you know a 3 x or 5 x return so and it would be much easier to manage and work with and getting investment from 1 investor versus you know.

Davis Siksnans: Pulling in 5 different vcs together right? So yeah, that’s why you know so advice of roschild investment bank. It was decided that’s probably a company like us is more attractive to be affirms and the fact that company was profitable for all the years that it operated right? so. Um, while some media firms would not invest in unprofitable technology businesses. So we are actually able to go in a pe while other firms couldn’t.

Alejandro Cremades: And obviously very attractive for B firms because you guys were operating for so long. Ah, you ah were Profitable. You had the historicals you know, running for you and and on your favor so you had Leverage So when you were having those discussions. Why do you came? you know to the conclusion you know after yeah, I’m sure that you spoke with a bunch that ultimately you know the best firm was going to be the one that you guys ended up going with you know, which was a I believe it is called Brigal What is it.

Davis Siksnans: Yeah, well the the way the process worked is that there was referrals from the roshschild investment bank and there was our own so the contact book of investors who got into watch with us over the years and Greg allsage’s mom was one of those companies that.

Alejandro Cremades: Brigal Sage Mount correct.

Davis Siksnans: Actually got to know us earlier to actually us going into that fundraising period Um, so ah from all the firms that were running into that funnel. Ah you know a lot of firms had to be educated What is print on demand in general. They.

Davis Siksnans: You know there were not a lot of companies in our freedom because print was a first mover into you know, print on demand for e-commerce. So there was a lot of Fairscope were just not educated about it. We spent a had to spend a lot of time while brial sema actually done a lot of their own research and got us like they got into details. And they spent more time than perhaps some other firms to fully understand us while others. You know we don’t get it. We cannot you know say you know printful is like you know this other company in this different field. So we ultimately choose them because they did their homework. And really understood us and and wanted to get more in a detail than other firms. That’s what we found.

Alejandro Cremades: And how long of a process was it from the moment that you guys were like okay I think it makes sense to raise money to the moment that money was in the bank.

Davis Siksnans: 6 to eight months and the reason partly being that we wanted to have full financials for 2020 right? because that was the year the covid started and I wanted to have a full financials and I ideally fully audited financials. We had 2 fully outted financials by 1 of the big 4 firms prior to that so we actually had 3 years of fully out that I audited financial. So we finished 2020 in January we went to the bankers here’s the full Twenty Twenty data start. You know testing the water soon investors with this data and by the time we signed up. We had the fully outeded financials and the first few months of the performance of 2021 which is really strong so it was a timing and that timing helped us to get the you know the best terms possible for the company.

Alejandro Cremades: And I guess for the company too because being on your own you know for so long without any external financing. Were there any steps that you guys needed to take you know towards you know the corporate structure for welcoming this people or welcoming this money I mean any anything else there that you had to think through.

Davis Siksnans: Well, we actually did that for the years prior. Um, you know, figuring out like transfer pricing. You know any any relations relations to tax and other things and actually to use the full advantage of us actually having a subsidity in Latia It’s actually pretty. Pretty good because the tax regime in lat is very favorable. There’s no corporate income tax on on on profit. They invested left in a company. Um and we we had to make a bit or ah changes around because again the company didn’t have outside investors. We’ve made some changes to option pool and other factors. But.

Alejandro Cremades: Wow.

Davis Siksnans: Not nothing too major to to onboard this investor because it was clean. It was the by the time originally it was the lllc in California but during you know initial talks with advisors we change it to a delaware based Ccorp and that will happen also several years prior to us actually having that round.

Alejandro Cremades: and and I’m sure that’s a very interesting topic by the way I’m sure that there’s a lot of people that are wondering LLC versus ccorp you know before taking money like what? what did your advises tell you and why did you ended up going with a Ccorp part of Delaware.

Davis Siksnans: Well for California again is not like super like from a tax perspective friendly state. 1 factor was you know do choosing just a different state. Another factor is lllc where. The main shareholders’s finances are to interwwined with company finances right? So we needed to actually separate them on have a much cleaner look because like laers. The co-founder who was living and in la his personal finances was intervening with the company and and ultimately ah taxes were a bit lower was the ccorp. You know it is the structure usually preferred by any investor.

Alejandro Cremades: Now for you June 2022 you know you decide to turn page. So why did you do that I mean after so long you know over 9 years or such with printful. You know your biggest success you know I’m sure it was our incredible journey for you. What was that the you know moment where you say I think it’s time for me to to turn you know to another chapter.

Davis Siksnans: And well I over the nine years so it just a tremendous journey of gross and what I’m most happy was is creating the theme within printful and I built a great team up I spent a lot of time you know flying back and forth between United States and Latvia actually covid came sort of in a blessing as well because I was sort of more um you know had to be forced in stay in Latvia and as we exited covid in 2021 slash twenty two I actually saw that I didn’t really want to on a personal level also but to return to a level of. Traveling to United States so extensively spending the time I was you know more basing myself personally in Europe you know got married bought a house and and I felt like just like ah you know, bringing up a child There’s an eventual time. You need to let the child to go from high school to the university you’ve have given. That child a lot and you feel like you will be. You know let the child do um and you know, starting living independent life but you built you know good um foundations for that company to be independent at that level. So the new a lot of new hires that came. For printful more recently are us based sea level executives who’s going to help in a.

Alejandro Cremades: So obviously now you know the um the you can see now as as as as you were saying printful you know going on its own you know maturing being now you know more than a baby becoming more like an adult I guess I mean obviously incredible journey. You know a billion you know, probably one of the um first unicorns there in Latvia ah hundreds and hundreds of employees I believe you know it’s over 800 employees now or such or maybe more ah but what’s next for you.

Davis Siksnans: Ah, next for me is helping and other companies who are in a similar journey. Ideally, they are in a breakeven phase or ready to you know, go on a hyperg growthss and the. Looking at companies here in the baltics mostly and help them to expand internationally you know use our experience from experiencing United States market you know we didn’t have a lot of capital before. But now we have capital other founders actually have sold other companies to other investors. So we’re now investing between you know one hundred thousand to a million in some case even option 2000000 um to help them. You know do what we did at printful right? You know build out theme and scale in tackle international markets. So that’s my primary focus and they’re in a group. As well. We have other companies like carffleet telemmatics company map on which I’m now a board member off and help them to also eventually have the first customer first and outside investor on board right? So as I said and printful. Journey was to prepare for that. Maybe 3 years prior to actually closing around so map on that’s still in the future. So I want to help that company. We actually have built have our first investment done already and and cosmetics space in in an ecommerce company that I’m also currently helping on.

Alejandro Cremades: And when you’re looking at investments. What what are like the biggest Checkmarks you know that are critical. You know for you guys to to see that they take so that you really take ah an investment. Seriously.

Davis Siksnans: Um, it needs to be an an understandable business model. You know how you know the companies make makes money like in printful Sks but understandable. You know it’s actually selling physical products. So one is that we need to see an upside how we can actually be hands-on and helping in a company instead of. You know, thinking a really small part of the company being like you know a sub 1% owner we want to be more like you know 10% or more owners so we want to take an active role and help them and ideally they need extra capital to accelerate. You know things that already has you know first signs of it. Being working um and they need to be international and they need to have a good working product all already and what I’ve seen in a lot of cases from the company in baltics is that it’s a great product that has great abuse but companies often struggle to you know with performance marketing. Really how to grow either sales through digital channels partnerships or in b two b just you know, direct sales and that’s something we did in printful and just want to transfer over some of that knowledge.

Alejandro Cremades: So if you could go back in time Davis you know after 9 years of pushing printful and give yourself a piece of advice before launching a business both that be and why.

Davis Siksnans: Well I’d still you know recommend to try to bring the product to Mvp stage where it meets the customer as soon as possible. Um, and now I just know certain things more try to. You know, grow on the shoulders of others like you know, permful’s case you really benefit it from tapping into shopify ecosystem etsy ecosystem woocommerce etc so I would whenever I would research a new business idea I would say whether I can tap into those existing channels where potential customers already hang out. So and shopify has an app store. So if I have a channel like that I would try to find a business that would tap into that because if you do that it really brings down your customer acquisition costs. Substantially.

Alejandro Cremades: So I guess for the people that are listening that will love to reach out and say hi. What is the best way for them to do so. David.

Davis Siksnans: It’s Linkedin these days is mostly Linkedin I’m there responding quickly and then you know email or ah or a meeting after that.

Alejandro Cremades: Amazing! Well Davis thank you so much for being on the deal maker show. It has been an on earth to have you with us today.

Davis Siksnans: Um, thank you.

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